Here, The Scholar presents the moral assessment on the case about Mario and Susan.
Holding marriage as the total and indissoluble intimate union of love and life of two consenting partners, man and woman, the church teaches and pronounces that remarriage, with one of the partners still bound by previous marriage, is a marital infidelity and adultery. The sixth commandment and the New Testament forbid it because it “contravenes the plan and the law of God as taught by Christ” and which establishes and govern it (1). It is also considered as an infectious evil that must be faced immediately and with careful discernment (2). Yet, with these, the couple involved is not separated from the church and is highly encouraged to participate in the church practice and celebrations. They must be helped to live Christian lives and be able to share in the life of the church (3). However, they are not allowed to receive the Eucharist for two reasons: [a] The couple’s state and condition breaks the union of Christ and the church signified by the Eucharist. [b] It might lead others into error and sin regarding the indissolubility of marriage. Moreover, reconciliation through the sacrament of penance may be granted but only to those who are truly repentant and ready to live as brothers and sisters that is, precisely without sexual intercourse that should only take place within marriage. Pastors too are forbidden to do any services for any remarried couple (4).
Nevertheless, with the church’s teaching on hand, people still vary in reactions and opinions about remarriage. People who are so called conservatives and those who understand morality and law interchangeably [not to mention their lack of genuine knowledge on the matter] see it as sinful, immoral and adulterous. They get scandalized. On the other hand, there are people who are open-minded and view it in a case-to-case [‘it depends’] basis taking into account what really happened and what lies beneath the real story. Also, there are those who are unaffected, either seeing the case as normal or considering it as none of their business to scrutinize and judge. Others find the drawback in the church which they see incapable of understanding people’s actual plight. Indeed a case like this provokes differing reactions from various groups of people or communities.
I, on the other hand, given the position of the church, the different perspectives of the people plus the enlightening and liberating learning in my moral theology course believe and would argue that the situation or relationship or Mario and Susan is not immoral, adulterous and sinful.
Allow me to present some factors and considerations that would support my argument. First, Mario and Susan’s relationship did not cause any scandal. They were understood and accepted by their immediate family, kinsfolk and local community. Second, Mario is not the one at fault in the separation that happened in his first marriage. The separation too is not in any way detrimental to their children since they had none. Third, Mario’s first marriage is irreparable due to the grave reason of their separation and the fact that Linda had already remarried beforehand. Lastly, the quality of faith, community and family life of Mario’s second marriage exhibit the couple’s love, unity and fidelity not only to themselves as couple but also to their commitment and responsibility as parents, as members of their community and as Christians (5). Their marital state did not hinder them to live normally as a couple and family.
What the church teaches and affirms opens itself to questions and counter arguments. Primarily, the church is right to say that remarriage breaks that relationship of union signified and effected by the Eucharist. However, the Eucharist is beyond that. The Eucharist does not only reinforce and affirm relationships of communion but also heal and strengthen broken relationships (6). Jesus said “This is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”[Matthew 26:28] “To reconcile and be reconciled is a major effect of the Holy Eucharist as the ‘sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity” (7). It reveals God’s own redeeming love which unconditionally reaches out to us.
Secondly, the church’s condition (ie. that reconciliation through the sacrament of penance may be granted if the Mario and Susan are truly repentant and ready to live without sexual intercourse unless after being married) for reconciliation in this particular case may be considered unpastoral and insensitive (8). There exists a limited and narrow understanding of the couple’s act of sharing their being and life in fidelity and love to each other. Marriage is not merely limited to the sexual act of conjugal love but it is also and most importantly, the sharing of the couple’s entire life. The sexual relationship that exists between Mario and Susan is a critical issue too difficult to judge. We are talking here of the person’s being as well as the relationship’s totality. We are talking neither about acts merely singled out nor of certain absolute law or norms. It is here that the question of fundamental option, core freedom, conscience and values come forcefully.
The 10 whole years of Mario and Susan’s life as a couple points back to a positive fundamental option that each of them have, underscores the values they uphold, and crystallizes the clear conscience they had upon their decision to remarry and still believe to be right. They live a humanizing life and nurture their relationships within their small family, with their community and with God through the church in spite of what it deprives them of. They witness to the fact that it is possible to grow and still become a better person in and through their relationship as a remarried couple. Held though by Mario’s marital past, the two of them were able to transcend and go beyond laws without causing damage or any harm to anybody. They might appear violating the law established by the church but the spirit of the law is embedded and alive in their lives. Their actions, decisions, interpersonal relationships, their simple and peaceful life reveal a clean heart. They emanate a happy, free and authentic relationship with God who alone knows what is truly in their hearts. I can say therefore that their family, particularly Mario and Susan’s relationship as a couple, epitomizes a typical happy family in the midst of daily struggles and endeavors as well simple successes and joys.
Mario and Susan need not be judged but must be guided constantly and given concrete pastoral considerations so that they can live a better life, socially and spiritually, more than what they have now. For instance, somebody has to inform and explain to them that their daughter can receive baptism, confirmation and the first communion. Another is to make them aware of or to grant them internal forum that would allow them to take part not only in the celebration of the Eucharist but also in receiving communion. As to the question of scandal, moral theologians deny the church’s position that it can cause a scandal and suggest that document must be provided first for it to be established (9).
At the bottom of all these is the simple but profound question about our right to judge them. Do we have, particularly I for this matter, have an absolute say and answer whether they are immoral or not? Certainly none. We can only try to understand them and give their rights to fully become who they positively choose and want to be as persons and live their lives to the fullest possible, in their own context, in co-existence with their community, and in deeper and growing relationship with [their] God. The truth is totally known only between Mario/Susan and God. We too can ask others and ourselves on what Jesus would say or do had He been here and met Mario and Susan. Would He cast and shun them away because they are sinners, immoral, and adulterous? I strongly believe that He would rather dine and share time with them.
In brief, the case of Mario and Susan helped me to approach and understand their relationship in and from the different perspectives first of the church and then of the people. Following closely still their differing arguments, I pushed for and highlighted my own personal judgment of the case as moral and not adulterous. This I did by invoking some criteria with the support of the counter arguments of moral theologians and by laying the ground to the question of fundamental option, core freedom and conscience of the very person of the couple involved. The person as a whole and adequately considered becomes the departure and not his/her acts.
I realized that any moral issue is a very crucial affair to study and reflect upon. It also entails careful discernment. It is an issue that would oftentimes, if not always, provoke and receive different reactions and judgments depending on the capacity and evaluative knowledge of the one making the judgment. Thus, I believe that no one ever has the right to make a close and unqualified judgment regarding the subject. No one can search and know the person’s heart but God alone.
We cannot end this study without asking, “What does this one-in-a-million case implies?” This should eventually challenge us in order to have a better grasp and understanding of the various situations that we encounter in our pastoral work and in the life of the church. Let me share some:
First, the education of the person engaged in pastoral work is basically important. At stake in every case is the well being of the person involved and this thing is not a joke. To embark in this kind of ministry requires a thorough and careful preparation. We cannot trivialize people’s experiences. We must do justice to them.
Second, when we are actually confronted with a moral case, fundamental is the knowledge of the centrality of the whole human person. The person’s acts and institutional laws must not be taken independently of the whole human person. The being of the human person is far greater than and beyond his/her acts and laws. Sin and morality is not absolutely bounded, defined and determined by laws.
Third, the church must provide people with an informed education on its laws and decrees and not just merely impose them. It must be quite realistic in whatever it teaches. This is a need that must be taken seriously today.
Finally, the church must be a true Mother of the people with whom every person can feel love and compassion and experience a flourishing of their humanity as they grow in relationship with God, people and creation.
1. John Paul II, “Familiaris Consortio,” In Vatican Council II Vol. II ed. Flanerry, A. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1982), 823; Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 462-3, 632.
2. John Paul II, “Familiaris Consortio,” 888.
3. Ibid., 888-9 “…listen to the Word of God, to attend the sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace.”; CCC, 463.
4. Ibid., 822, 888-9; S.C.D.F., “Personae humanae,” In Vatican Council II Vol. II, 490-1.
5. Notes on Moral Theology course. “Criteria on the questions of justice, irreparability of the first marriage and quality of life.”
7. E.C.C. C. E., The Catholic Faith Catechism (Makati: Word and Life Publications, 1994), 370,376; A. Flanerry, ed., “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” In Vatican Council II Vol. I (Pasay City: Paulines, 2001), 16; CCC, 390-1.
E.C. C. C. E. The Catholic Faith Catechism. Makati: Word and Life Publications, 1994.
Flanerry, A. ed. Vatican Council II Vol. II. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1982.
Flanerry, A. ed. Vatican Council II Vol. I. Pasay City: Paulines, 2001.
_______. Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Notes on Moral Theology course.
Here, The Scholar presents the moral assessment on the case about Mario and Susan.